Thursday, November 11, 2004

Remembering Rick Rescorla

It was a hectic day in the northern Arabia desert in January 1991.

We were busy when we received word that a journalist was on his way to the command post. This was not the kind of distraction that any of us wanted.

Brigadier General Tommy R. Franks set us straight. This wasn't just any journalist. This was Joe Galloway who had spent 3 days and nights at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley with 1-7 Cavalry, a squadron of 1st Cavalry Division.

Most of us were somewhat familiar with the story of 1-7 Cav in the Ia Drang. Some of us even knew the story of Joe Galloway. Many did not.

Joe Galloway not only covered the fight in LZ X-Ray, he fought along side the Cav troopers. And now here he was, 25 years later, to write a story on the present day 1-7 Cav.

Some months later back at Fort Hood, I bought the book Galloway co-authored with Lieutenant General (Retired) Hal Moore, We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young. I could not put it down. I had read a lot of war-related books, but none like this. I only thought I knew the story of the Ia Drang campaign.

Years later the book was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson. An excellent movie. The first honest look at the Vietnam War. But the movie only covers the first half of the book -- 1-7 Cav's fight in LZ X-Ray. You'll need to read the book to learn of 2-7 Cav's day of hell in LZ Albany.

If you've seen the movie and have thought that the situation 1-7 Cav was in could not get more dire, the story of 2-7 Cav in LZ Albany will wrench your gut and break your heart.

Of the many Cav troopers Galloway and Moore write about, one captured my attention for the sheer bravery he displayed against all odds. Bravery and valor that stood out among many brave and valorous men.

Rick Rescorla fought in both X-Ray and Albany and it is not by happenstance that his picture graces the cover of the book.

Lieutenant Rick Rescorla

His troops and fellow officers called him "Hardcore".

From We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young:

The most savage one-day battle of the Vietnam War had just begun. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry had walked into a hornet's nest.

A deadly ordeal by fire was beginning in the tall elephant grass around Albany and along the column of American troops strung out through the jungle, waiting for orders to move. It was 1:15 p.m., Wednesday, November 17. By the time the battle ended, in the predawn darkness the next morning, 155 American soldiers would be dead and another 124 wounded.

Those who survived would never forget the savagery, the brutality, the butchery of those sixteen hours.

[Rick Rescorla and his men, recovering from 3 days of intense combat in LZ X-Ray, had only been back at the base camp for a few hours when they got the word that they would be going into LZ Albany.]

"At about 1600 hours," Lieutenant Rick Rescorla recalls, "Captain Diduryk walked up. 'Get the Company together. Battalion's catching hell. We may have to go in. You're the only platoon leader left in the Company. Help all the platoons get their shit together.' Men spilled out of the Clubs and double-timed to their equipment. They worked quickly, throwing on their harnesses. No protests, but their eyes were filled with disbelief. Again? Diduryk then issued the shortest frag order in Bravo Company history: 'We'll be landing from the southeast. Open fire at anything on your left. Run to your right.' A hostile landing with one side of the landing zone held by the North Vietnamese. Situation Report from the ground: Grim. Expect to be sandwiched between friendly and enemy fires."

At about 5:45 p.m., Rescorla gathered the platoons. "They pressed in close, listening intently to every word. Eighty or more. Young faces, old hollow eyes. 'You know the battalion is in the shit,' I said. 'We have been selected to jump into that shit and pull them out. If you fight like you did at X-Ray you'll come through it. Stay together. Come out of those choppers ready to get it on.'

"Across the field the first lift ships were sweeping in. 'Head 'em up.' Captain Diduryk growled. I turned and walked ahead. The road stretched out past the permanent hooches of the rear echelon at Holloway. Word spread that we were on a suicide flight. Tumbling out of cozy bunks, Holloway's finest lined the road to watch us depart. Hawaiian shirts, aviator shades, jeans, beer cans in hand. Cooks and bottle washers, the shit-burners, projectionists, club runners. Same Army, different species."

"No one had shaved, but our weapons sparkled.

'What outfit are you?' one spectator asked.

'The Hard Corps of Bravo Company, 2nd of the 7th.

'Where are you headed?'

'To kick ass,' I replied."

"First pass over Albany I stared down into the smoke and dust. Between the trees were the scattered khaki bodies of at least a dozen NVA. They lay face up on the brown gravel of a dry streambed. Firing snapped around us. We circled out to safety. 'NVA bodies. You see them?', I yelled. Fantino shook his head. He had been looking out the other side. 'Lots of American dead down there, Sir. Mucho!' On the second pass I saw the blackened track of the napalm. American bodies and equipment dotted between the anthills and scrub brush. Getting ground fire; the pilot was clearly upset, hunched low. He jabbered into his mike, expressing doubt that we would get down. Darkness was closing in around us. I stood on the skids hovering at least twelve feet over the LZ. Too high."

The sound of two bullets hitting forced Rescorla back. "Looking sideways I saw a trickle of blood down the pilot's sleeve. The chopper dropped a few feet. The pilot yelled at the gunner. The gunner snarled, 'Get out.' I hesitated. "Get the f*** out!" Four of us dropped a bone-jarring ten feet. We were on our own. Up ahead we heard sounds of American voices. We sprinted into the perimeter."

Lieutenant Larry Gwin watched the reinforcements arrive: "I saw Rick Rescorla come swaggering into our lines with a smile on his face, an M-79 on his shoulder, his M-16 in one hand saying: 'Good, good, good! I hope they hit us with everything they got tonight -- we'll wipe them out.' His spirit was catching. The troops were cheering."

Two years ago, I was reading Bill Gertz's book, Breakdown, when I learned of Rick Rescorla's death. I felt as if I had been punched hard in the stomach.

On September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla was at his desk on the 44th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airliner slammed into the North Tower. He was the vice president for security at Morgan Stanley.

As Bill Gertz relates in his book:

Rescorla sprang into action. Grabbing a bullhorn, he went to work in the same calm fashion he showed under intense combat fire in Vietnam.

The company had 3,700 employees in the World Trade Center -- 2,700 employees in the South Tower on floors forty-four through seventy-four and 1,000 employees in Building Five across the plaza. There was no hesitation. He ordered everyone to evacuate the building immediately.

A short time after the aircraft hit, an official of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the Trade Center towers, called. Everyone in the building should stay put because there was no danger, the Port Authority man said. Rescorla shot back: "Piss off, you son of a bitch. Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people the f*** out of here." He recounted the exchange in a telephone call to his longtime friend Dan Hill, then ran off and began helping the evacuation.

By the time the second hijacked airliner hit the South Tower at 9:07 a.m., most of the company's employees were out. But Rescorla's work was not finished. Three employees were missing. Rescorla and two assistants went back to look for them. Rescorla was last seen on the tenth floor of the burning tower. He died when the building collapsed a short time later. But he had saved thousands of lives. Out of 3,700 employees, Morgan Stanley lost only six, including Rescorla.

I met Joe Galloway again at Fort Leavenworth in 1996. He was a guest speaker at the Command & General Staff College. His topic was on the media and the military (Joe Galloway is responsible, more than any other person, for the concept of embedded media).

We were chatting backstage and I thanked him for telling the story of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang. I asked about meeting some of the soldiers who had fought in LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany. I specifically asked about meeting Rick Rescorla. Mr. Galloway smiled at the mention of Rescorla's name and told me that it would tickle Rescorla pink to talk with a young 1st Cavalry Division veteran.

I kept that as one of my goals. To meet Rick Rescorla.

If I make it to Heaven, he'll be one of the first angels I look up.



The FReeper Foxhole Remembers LZ Albany (11/17/1965) - Apr. 6th, 2005

Thanks for mentioning the blog,Sam. And thanks for all you've done and continue to do for our country. -- Monk

No comments: